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$20 million capital campaign to restore campanile

Date: 3/13/2014

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – More than a century old, the campanile – the clock and bell tower that stands between City Hall and Symphony Hall – is a landmark in the city and now there is an effort to restore it to its original glory.

Officials announced on March 7 the city would undertake a $20 million capital campaign over the next three years to completely restore the campanile.

Patrick Sullivan, executive director of the Department of Parks, Buildings and Recreation Management, explained a thorough study of the campanile was made and the city did not want to move forward unless it had a complete cost estimate and the city had the capacity to bond to match federal and state grants as well as donations.

Michael Teller, principal at CBI Consulting, explained the campanile was constructed with a steel frame and then covered in blocks of limestone. Over the years water has made its way through the limestone, which was caused the steel to rust. The rusting steel expands and cracks the lines.

The reconstruction would involve the removal of the limestone, the repair of the steel and then new limestone, where necessary, installed, Teller said. The clock, the bells and clock and the water-drive elevator would all be restored as part of the project.

The goal is to have a 101 year-old structure that looks well maintained,” Teller said.

Robert McCarroll of the city’s Historical Commission told Reminder Publications the campanile has been closed since the 1980s when it was opened sporadically.

“I’m thrilled this issue is being addressed,” he added.

According to a souvenir book published 1914, the municipal group was dedicated on Dec. 8, 1913 and cost $2 million to construct. The three new structures replaced the city hall that was destroyed in a fire on Jan. 6, 1905.

The author of the book described the campanile as “a classic beauty by day, the tower is a beacon by night, its brilliantly lighted apex reminding all beholders that ‘Springfield is on the map.’”

Until the construction of Tower Square in 1973, the campanile was the tallest structure in the city.

The capital campaign will be led by Mayor Domenic Sarno; William L. Putnam, son of the city’s 41st Mayor Roger L. Putnam; Congressman Richard Neal, who was the city’s 50th mayor; Jonathan Fantini Porter, great grandson of the 34th mayor of the city, John A. Denison and Roger Crandall, chairman, president and CEO of MassMutual Financial Group.

Putnam, the founder of WWLP television and a mountaineer, said the campanile was the first thing he “climbed” as a boy in 1938. He recalled, “The elevator was working that year, so I began to wonder why doesn’t someone fix this place? As time went one other people began to wonder and there some attempts to fix some obvious flaws of the outside structure of the campanile. But they never attacked the root cause of the problem and the root cause as Mr. Teller has made quite clear, is the steel structure inside.”

Porter’s great grandfather was the mayor at the time the municipal group was dedicated. He said, “It’s really a symbol of the city’s past and very much a guide to its future.”

Contributions for the Springfield Campanile Project can be made payable to the Springfield Council for Cultural and Community Affairs and sent to the Springfield Campanile Restoration Project, 200 Trafton Road, Springfield MA 01108. All donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.